Haze (PlayStation 3) review
"As a Mantel soldier, youíll feel the power of Nectar with a birdís-eye camera shift, a display that could be described as a vacuum thatís trying to devour your world. The devoured image quickly pops out, replacing the standard game view with an enhanced look at your enemies, who are now highlighted with a yellow glow. Bullets are taken with less damage, and your shields will replenish much quicker."
Within minutes of the first mission and within seconds of your first gunshot, hordes of renegade soldiers will become food for vultures. Though snipers lurk in the bushes, your armor-covered comrades follow without fear, bringing rifles and rocket launchers to the dinner party. Itís an elegant event, no question Ė lots of meat will be served. But thereís no time for wine tasting. As Sergeant Shane Carpenter, you have been tasked with one mission: find the enemy and carve it like a turkey.
Led by a team of highly-skilled supermen, Carpenter is a member of Mantel, an independent army hired by governments from all over the world. Mantelís success is credited to its exclusive nutritional supplement: Nectar. This handy fluid has the power to improve a soldierís sight, aim, speed and strength. Nectar is administered by hand at a variety of doses Ė an effective solution when facing multiple adversaries but it can be very dangerous when overused by an anxious soldier.
This is the story of Haze, a first-person shooter from Free Radical, the makers of the addictive TimeSplitters series. That statement alone carries hype, anticipation, and severe expectations. Building off the gameís story, the developers use Nectar as one of its selling points. As a Mantel soldier, youíll feel the power of Nectar with a birdís-eye camera shift, a display that could be described as a vacuum thatís trying to devour your world. The devoured image quickly pops out, replacing the standard game view with an enhanced look at your enemies, who are now highlighted with a yellow glow. Bullets are taken with less damage, and your shields will replenish much quicker.
Haze had the makings of a good game, but its slow start may leave the average action-seeking gamer scratching his head. Carpenter is a tough, ambitious young man. As the game progresses youíll learn that he joined Mantel to make a difference in a world he wasnít happy with. But in the beginning, the only thing youíll notice is that there are several characters shouting at Carpenter. And since youíre Carpenter, that means theyíre shouting at you. They stare into the screen, form a stiff, angry face, and struggle to move their mouths like an old guy coming out of a Botox clinic. Despite the visual and verbal annoyance, the only thing youíll be able to think about is: which button do I press to skip this scene?
But like something out of a horror movie, with shrieks and creaking floors, the game is forever trapped in the land of No Skipping Allowed. From acclaimed director Dick Blasphemous, No Skipping Allowed has haunted gamers since the days of the first Dragon Quest. But while most players come to RPGs in search of a story, that isnít why theyíll come to Haze.
Once the real-time monotony has run its course, Carpenter is dropped in the middle of a jungle. He Nectars up, whips out a weapon, and launches a deadly assault on everyone thatís highlighted.
As you make your way through the jungle, you'll fight the urge to look down at your controller. Yes, that is a SIXAXIS or Dual-Shock 3 youíre holding. But itís really hard to tell.
Whereas TimeSplitters was instantly cool, gripping, and advanced for its time, Haze feels like it just rolled off the PlayStation 2 assembly line. The jungle textures are generic at best; individually, some elements (most notably the mountains) are well below the level of the current generation. Ship textures are bland and blurred together so badly youíd swear they were made using a childrenís coloring book. The frame rate is acceptable but not outstanding; the game is slow throughout each mission and struggles to keep up whenever a checkpoint (save spot) is reached.
Visuals alone do not make or break a game. But PlayStation 3 is in an odd position. It doesnít have 1/100 the number of exclusives that PlayStation 2 had. So when an exclusive comes around, gamers are eager to see all the things that justified that exclusivity Ė one of them being a graphic engine that was optimized for Sonyís machine. Thus, itís impossible to ignore when the game ends up looking like a PS2 upgrade.
More than the engine and lifeless character expressions, though, Haze is hurt by its sluggish gameplay. Player movement is notoriously slow and unnatural. You can lunge forward by tapping the X button twice, but the result is a quick camera jerk that pushes your character forward. It is not useful for anything except an escape, a task you wonít have to perform often thanks to the enemiesí immense stupidity. A few of their stupid acts include:
Stupid Act #1: While shooting an enemy about 30 feet away, he stopped aiming, turned his back on me and began to climb down a ladder. He now rests at the bottom of the Bonehead Graveyard Ė the final resting place of Acclaim and 3DOís finest releases.
Stupid Act #2: Upon being shot near a rail, the enemy threw himself off a building. He didnít fall off Ė it looked like he purposely jumped.
(Remember kids, donít try these at home!)
Stupid Act #3: I ran up behind an enemy and aimed my gun at his head. He didnít move. I waited a second or two. He still didnít move. I opened fire and he fell to the ground, finally moving.
Stupid Act #4: Noting the success of team-based shooters, Haze gives players a few AI teammates. After discovering that one was in danger, I switched weapons (from shotgun to an automatic) and was about to take out the enemy. But I didnít think Iíd have to. The enemy Ė who was just a couple feet from my teammate Ė did not fire a single bullet. Instead, he walked up to my teammate, stood for a second, and walked a complete circle in front of him. My teammate had his weapon drawn but did not open fire. Finally, the enemy took action and grabbed him by the neck. Thatís when I stepped in and used my gun. This is a first-person shooter, after all Ė I figured someone ought to.
Stupid Act Bonus: AI teammates are just as dumb as your opponents, often running in front of Carpenterís gunfire. Apparently they missed the lesson on this at military school.
Hazeís level design is linear yet confusing, hence the inclusion of flairs to mark your next point of travel. Backtracking is out of the question thanks to the formation of each environment (ex: if you had to climb over a steel beam to get to the next area, donít count on being able to climb back over it).
Very few players will be challenged by Haze, but that doesnít mean you wonít die a couple of times. When you do, be prepared to wait: the load times are very long. I didnít time them, but they appeared to rival the 50-second loading experience of NBA Ballers: Chosen One.
Considering this gameís lack of guidance, you shouldnít be too surprised by the inclusion of vehicles (a Halo staple), or the restriction on carrying more than two weapons (another limitation Halo fans will recognize). Also not surprising is how useless the vehicles are. A couple areas are designed around them, forcing players to use a vehicle or spend several months walking through the narrow area. But they donít add anything to the experience, feeling more like an afterthought for competitive purposes.
If Hazeís design wasnít already puzzling, howís this for a surprise: Nectar, the whole story behind the gameís only unique feature (which, as it turns out, is unique in concept but not in execution), is rarely featured in the single-player campaign. Thereís a story twist behind it Ė a lecture, to be exact Ė a sequence that will bore most players and turn off those that think itís a political statement.
Multi-player is a little more eventful, but only temporarily. There arenít many maps, the weapon selection is weak, and the overall jerky feel of the game is not as inviting as a shooter thatís smooth and seamless.
Which leads us to a troubling dilemma: as much as PlayStation 3 owners want exclusive games, if this is what we have to look forward to, maybe a multi-platform future isnít so bad.
Freelance review by Louis Bedigian (June 05, 2008)
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